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Rogers is spot-on in Tigers' win

He throws eight shutout innings, extending streak to 23, to beat St. Louis, 3-1, and even the Series, although splotch on his hand arouses suspicion.

October 23, 2006|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — This city, these fans, struck a familiar October posture; bent at the waist, face set against the elements, leaning into another early winter that, for a change, disrupted their baseball season.

Wrapped in scarves and huddled beneath blankets, they were warmed by eight more scoreless innings from Kenny Rogers, two early runs, and a ninth-inning escape by Todd Jones, their on-the-edge closer.

The Detroit Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1, in frigid temperatures and a stiff breeze Sunday night at Comerica Park, tying the World Series at a game apiece. Game 3 is Tuesday night in St. Louis.

Rogers, the 41-year-old left-hander who is experiencing a late-career revival, has thrown 23 innings in three postseason starts this October, all of them scoreless. He gave up two singles Sunday night, one in the first and another in the eighth, and only one Cardinals baserunner reached scoring position until the ninth, Jones' disheveled inning.

Rogers was the source of some controversy as well, pitching through the first inning with a brown smear on his pitching hand.

The plate umpire, Alfonso Marquez, told his supervisor, former major league umpire Steve Palermo, that he determined the substance was dirt and not a foreign substance, such as pine tar, which would have been illegal and cause for ejection and suspension. Rogers claimed it was "a big clump of dirt" and that "I didn't know it was there." He wiped the substance from his hand between innings, either at the umpire's request -- as Palermo stated -- or of his own doing, which Rogers claimed.

There also was the matter of the Cardinals' hitters. According to Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, who got the story through the umpires, they complained to their manager, Tony La Russa, that Rogers' pitches were "acting funny."

"They made Kenny wash his hands," Leyland said, "and he washed his hands, and came out the second inning and he was clean the rest of the way."

La Russa, who typically manages to the final inch, challenged neither Rogers nor the umpires at the time, and afterward dismissed questions about it.

"It's not important," he said. "I won't discuss it."

That aside, Rogers, following his 17-win regular season, continued his October dominance.

Only Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, who threw 27 scoreless innings in the 1905 World Series, and Lew Burdette, who had 24 straight scoreless innings in the 1957 Series, have longer single postseason scoreless streaks than Rogers'.

Bundled Tigers fans serenaded Rogers, who'd bombed in previous playoffs while pitching for the New York Mets and Yankees, by chanting his first name. He responded by churning through the Cardinals lineup, his control and late movement -- much of it downward -- forcing the Cardinals into awkward, late swings, and inning after inning of soft outs.

"I'm no Christy Mathewson, that's for sure," Rogers said of the turn-of-the-century right-hander who won 373 games, "but I've had scoreless streaks before. I'm so glad it's happening now for us as a team. It helps us win.

"I know I'm just trying to be a good pitcher and make as many good pitches as I can.... I pitched all right and pretty good, but my whole team has been fantastic for me this year, and that's why I'm having success."

In three starts, one in each of the Tigers' series, Rogers has given up nine hits. In the first two playoff rounds he shut out the New York Yankees over 7 2/3 innings and shut out the Oakland A's over 7 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits -- combined.

He was better against the Cardinals. Though they lack the depth and ferocity of the Yankees, the Cardinals had scored seven runs the night before, and had seemed to have Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen perk up. Against Rogers, Pujols walked once. Rolen had an infield hit in the first, then grounded out and struck out.

The Tigers, meanwhile, appeared quite comfortable against Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver, who gave up nine hits and three runs in five innings. Craig Monroe homered to left-center field in the first. Two batters later, Magglio Ordonez looped a single into short left-center, then Carlos Guillen slammed a double into the same gap, scoring Ordonez.

Despite having at least two baserunners in every inning against Weaver, the Tigers scored only once more, in the fifth, when Guillen tripled with one out and Sean Casey singled him in with two outs.

"I don't think we changed anything today," said Monroe, who homered in the ninth inning of Game 1, a 7-2 Tigers loss. "For us, we wanted to come out and be aggressive. We feel like that's got us to this point thus far, so why not continue to go up there and be aggressive?"

The Cardinals didn't rally until the ninth, the moment Leyland made the decision to remove Rogers, who had thrown 99 pitches and still appeared strong. Jones got the first two outs in the ninth inning, then Rolen singled, Juan Encarnacion reached on Jones' error and Jim Edmonds' bloop double scored Rolen.

With first base open, Jones hit Preston Wilson with a fastball, loading the bases. The crowd squirmed. Tigers pitching coach Chuck Hernandez went to the mound. Rogers, still in the dugout, paced.

On a 1-and-0 pitch, Yadier Molina, the Game 7 star of the NLCS, grounded into a force play.

tim.brown@latimes.com

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